Crackdown on Visa Overstays

By Reuben Seguritan


President Trump has ordered the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security to submit plans to deter overstays. The President suggested punishing countries whose citizens have high rates of overstays and/ or to require all foreign travelers to the US to post admission bonds that would be repaid to them once they leave the US. Possible punishments could be limiting the number of visas granted to these countries, limiting the time their citizens are allowed in the US, and requiring its citizens to submit more documents when applying for visas and to enter the US.


He justified this directive by stating that overstays are as problematic as undocumented immigrants (people who cross the border illegally) because they undermine the integrity of the US immigration system and harm the national interest. He added that visa overstays are unacceptably high and are a widespread problem. Furthermore the US Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) states that overstays pose a potential nationals security threat to the US and should be prioritized for further investigation or removal operations.


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines an overstay as “a non-immigrant who was lawfully admitted to the United States for an authorized period but stayed in the United States beyond his or her lawful admission period.” The DHS describes two types of visa overstay: 1. People for whom no departure has been recorded and 2. People who departed the US but after their lawful period of admission expired.


Some of the overstays are from countries included in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The nationals of the countries in the VWP may travel to the US for tourism or business for a period of up to 90 days without obtaining a visa.


For countries that are required to obtain a visa before entering the US, there are overstays in all categories. However, the category with the most number of overstays were for the student and exchange visitors visa. About 40% of the total student/exchange visa overstays in 2017 were from China, Saudi Arabia, India and South Korea.


For tourism and business visitor (B) visa, the overstay rate is currently higher than 10%. There were about 301,000 overstays in 2017. For 2018 there were 305,000 overstays. Brazil had the most number of overstays in 2017 with 33,759 for B visas. Venezuela was a close second at 30,424 of its nationals as overstays in the same period.


For travelers from the Philippines, it was estimated that more than 12,000 overstayed their visas in 2016. Out of this number of overstays, 5,000 entered the US on business or tourist visas. Then about 934 were students and exchanged visitors who overstayed. But the largest category of Filipinos who overstayed in the US were temporary workers and trainees, traders, investors, fiancées of US citizens and their children, and spouses and children of US citizens and US lawful permanent residents (LPR) who totaled 6,523 in 2016.


In 2017, the Philippines was the second country after India with the most number of overstays in the nonimmigrant worker visas category with 7,075 Filipinos overstaying. The Philippines also had 5,276 overstays in the business or tourism visa category and 967 in the students and exchange visitor visa category.


From 2016 to 2017, about 62% of the newly undocumented immigrants were the overstays and 38% were those who crossed the border illegally. It is estimated that in 2017 there were more than 700,000 overstays. In 2018, almost 667,000 people overstayed their visas.


Immigration law advocates have pointed out that the DHS’s method of finding out which country has the most number of overstays is flawed. This is because the rate is computed by looking at how many visitors went to the US from a certain country and how many left within their authorized stay. Hence, Djibouti had the highest overstay rate even if the overstays were just 180 people. Chad’s 30.8% of overstays amounted to 165 people and Yemen in third place had 518 overstays. Other countries such as Mexico had an overstay rate of 1.5% but that was equivalent to 43,000 people. Canada had an overstay rate of less than 1% but that represented 88,000 people. Furthermore, the arrivals from Mexico and Canada only took into account those who arrived by sea and air. The Mexicans and Canadians who arrived in the US by land were not included in the computation. If the number of people who overstayed would be the basis for the ranking of the countries, then the top countries would be Mexico, India, China and Venezuela.